I always think that there is something particularly annoying about eating in a restaurant and then being ill. I ate out one night this week and saw my dinner come back rather too quickly and unpleasantly, feeling dreadful for the rest of the next day and still not great today. Nothing like paying to be ill!

It wasn’t chicken that caused this rather disturbed and sleepless night, although I did eat something egg-based. However, food poisoning is food poisoning and bad news for all involved. My wallet is now GBP 20 lighter and I am probably a few pounds lighter too.

The UK has made GBP 4 million (US$6.4 million) available to find out more about Campylobacter, which causes over 300,000 cases of food poisoning a year in England and Wales and is thought to cost the country’s economy up to GBP 600 million annually.

Enough of the bad news. Time to focus on something more positive!

These newly funded projects are to look at three main areas:

  1. When does infection begin in poultry, what are the common points of contamination, and are there stages in the process where control measures are likely to be most effective?
  2. How can biocontrol of Campylobacter on farms and during processing make a difference? What are the best approaches to biocontrol? 
  3. What is it about the biology of bacteria, the bird, and the interaction between them that compounds the problem?

The aims of this group of projects include identification of the key sources of the initial infection on farms; the common points of contamination; and weak spots in the pipeline of infection where there is a high chance of eliminating bacteria from the food chain.

Unlike you or me, birds are able to tolerate a relatively large population of Campylobacter in their gut without ill effect. This raises questions as to why the birds do not become ill and what factors could reduce the burden of bacteria in their gut. This leads to another aim of these projects, which is to investigate the factors that affect colonization of the poultry gut, retention of bacteria inside the gut, and whether diet can reduce the incidence or level of infection.

Commenting on the funding for this work, Peter Bradnock, chief executive at the British Poultry Council and chair of the Joint Working Group on Campylobacter, said that the work was vital to better inform the controls already in place and interventions being trialed on farms and across the production chain. He continued that poultry companies were fully engaged with the researchers and were collaborating on these projects to find more effective interventions against this most difficult organism.

Well, I am certainly feeling glad that this funding has been made available. I’ve been trying to put on weight over recent months, so dining out has hardly helped me in my quest, and I will have a particular interest in the results of this work.

To find out more about the 12 projects, visit the BBRSC website